"Locked in the old order," Jean Witherow writes in her essay "A Dialectic of Deception," Newland Archer
and others, as she states it later in the same piece, "adhere to the ideology of the society that forms and
circumscribes them." Although he flirts with the possibility of Ellen Olenska's acceptance into society and his
own alliance with her, Newland ultimately remains, as Mark Nicholls phrases it in his film study "Male
Melancholia and Martin Scorsese's Age of Innocence," a "loyal member of his tribe" (26). Lacking the
courage and the foresight to see old New York already crumbling around him, Newland marries May and leads
a staid, eventless life. As we begin the last chapter of the novel, he finds himself in a rather ironic position, a
position that Michael Nowlin has capably editorialized in "Edith Wharton's Higher Provincialism: French Ways
for Americans and the Ends of The Age of Innocence":
Newland is like a latter-day Rip in feeling like a relic from the past - even "prehistoric," as his son jokingly puts it. His prim Victorian wife has long been dead; the city he grew up in has been dramatically transformed; he speaks on the telephone to his son across the continent, uses electric lighting, and is scheduled to make a five-day transatlantic voyage to France. But, more significantly, we find him presiding over the expansion of a world-class museum rather than being a wall-piece within it, and anticipating the marriage of his son to the daughter of Julius Beaufort…and his former mistress Fanny Ring - a marriage across blood and class lines… (92)
The world order Newland upheld has collapsed. Even confronted with this change, however, he travels to Paris
where Ellen now resides yet once again decides against her when he refuses to accompany his son to her
apartment. "Say I'm old-fashioned," he coaches Dallas while sitting on a bench and staring up at Ellen's
Indeed, Edith Wharton replicates this theme throughout the novel on various levels. As Carmen Trammell
Skaggs points out in "Looking through the Opera Glasses: Performance and Artifice in The Age of Innocence,"
the novel opens with resistance to something new: "Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote
metropolitan distances 'above the Forties,' of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and
splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every
winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy" (3). According to Skaggs, old New York
resisted the change as the "limited availability of box seats, coupled with a great demand for them, allowed
the possessors of opera boxes an enviable position of privilege and prestige."
Of course, in the more classical reading of the novel, like the one we find in R.W.B. Lewis's 1968
"Introduction," Archer's adherence to tradition is a good and noble thing:
- there was no genuine and honorable and emotionally fulfilling alternative to the social order, and
not only because the society [Wharton] had known was a vast impinging fact of life. It was also because society was the domain of the values that counted most - loyalty, decency, honesty, fidelity, and the adherence to a moral commitment. To defy the social ethic was to disturb the foundations of society and to threaten those values. (xvi)
The elitism, the classism inherent in Lewis's view and, by implication, in Wharton's, exists in our society today.
Old, good. New, bad. Nowhere do we see this binary prejudice so pronounced as in the dry and dusty halls of
academe. "Online journals simply don't have the cachet of print journals," a colleague told me a few months ago
while waving a print journal in the air. I found this view naïve at worst, quaint at best, and disturbingly, as we find
Newland Archer even at the end of The Age of Innocence, old fashioned.
I confess I have never been able to read the novel with the classical view. I fail to see Archer's decision as
noble sacrifice. Indeed, my overwhelming emotion upon closing the book has always been one of frustration. I
do not believe that only those who live in the old way carry the values of "loyalty, decency, honesty, fidelity,
and adherence to a moral commitment" (Lewis xvi). To marry May, for me, is the height of arrogance, elitism,
classism, and shallow concern with outward appearances. Furthermore, Archer denies her, himself, and Ellen
of une grande passion and, ultimately, happiness. My twenty-first century mind is simply too pragmatic.
As Director of Creative Writing at Pepperdine University, advisor for creative writing majors and minors, and
instructor for a course entitled Creative Writing for the Professional Market, I am frequently called upon to
express my views on publishing in the digital media world. As I have already mentioned, some of my colleagues
believe print journals have more prestige and value; it follows, then, that several of my students would hold that
view as well. But already, I am told, Gale has announced that even the dustiest of print journals have moved
their five year wall before their work can be made available electronically to three years. I see the time fast
approaching when that wall moves to zero.
In "A Cooperative Publishing Model for Sustainable Scholarship," Robert Schroeder and Getta E. Siegel
explain, "The current state of scholarly publishing can best be defined as 'transitional.' For the past two decades
we have been moving from print to electronic dissemination formats, from well-defined economic models that,
for the most part, served the learned and research communities to wide-ranging models that span the spectrum
from elitist to populist to everything in between" (86). This quote is interesting in two ways. First, the expression
"for the most part" concedes the financial hardship journals have suffered, hardship that riddles the pages of
such periodicals as the Journal of Scholarly Publishing. Electronic publishing offers organizations, associations,
institutes, universities, presses, and journals relief from much of the fiscal burden of print publishing.
The second interesting point comes later in the quote when the authors define the spectrum as "elitist to
populist." This phrasing resonates with one of the central problems in this issue. Some see print publishing as
elitist and online publishing as populist. I would assert that this dualistic thinking is faulty. Like Deleuze and
Guattari, I would argue for a rhizomatic approach (7). Rather than thinking hierachically or genealogically, we
must consider a vast matrix of issues - we must judge each publication by its own merit regardless of the
medium in which it is published. In other words, we must examine the Editorial Board, the Advisory Board,
the editors, the previously published material. We must, in short, actually read the publication before we rank
it or pass judgment on it by virtue of it medium. Not too long ago, I heard colleagues complaining about the
emergence of new journals and the concomitant havoc this emergence was wreaking on their department's
point system in terms of tenure and promotion evaluation. "I guess we're going to have to read the articles,"
they sighed as though this were a radical notion - to read the publications rather than rely on the titles of the
Of course, it does not help matters when Lindsay Waters, the Executive Editor for Humanities at Harvard
University Press, rages:
Some have suggested that the new possibilities for electronic publishing will alleviate our problems. In the wild ideas of some dreamers the new world of electronic publication will actually be an improvement over books. To think this way is to fail to understand that electronic publication will only make the situation worse. Moreover, it will make things worse in a way that undermines the principles behind the culture of the
While Waters encourages scholars to think more and publish less and departments to value the single, well thought
out monograph in decisions of retention, promotion, and tenure rather than the list of hastily conceived, researched,
and written works - a point with merit although not central to my thesis here - his distate for electronic publishing -
a distate coming from a Harvard editor no less - represents exactly the kind of elitist prejudice that remains
entrenched in the hall of academe, including the creative writing wings.
I have mentioned the fiscal benefit for online publishers, but there are significant benefits for authors as
well - especially authors of creative work. These arguments we have heard from the emerging musician or band
in the wake of the Napster controversy. The most obvious benefit is international distribution. While a print
journal distributes, at best, a few thousand copies, primarily to the domestic marketplace, and the people who
receive them rarely open them let alone read them from cover to cover, an online journal can be accessed by
individuals worldwide, twenty-four hours a day.
This global reach leads to the corollary benefit: the building of an audience. "How do I get an agent?" students
often ask me. If you're a screenwriter, collaborate with others and get a film made and into a festival. If you're
a playwright, form a troupe, rent a theater, and stage your play. Fiction writers, send your work to places that
do not require agents like literary reviews. Agents are attracted to people taking action, people in medias res,
people with an audience already. Do not worry about chasing agents. Do the work that will attract agents to
you. All of the techniques I mention here have one thing in common: I am encouraging new writers to get their
name "out there." No bigger "out there" exists than the World Wide Web.
One of the benefits from the publisher's side of this issue is that journals are free to publish the best work;
they do not have to base decisions on anything other than quality. Such considerations as to allow a color
photograph to accompany a piece or go with a shorter, less accomplished piece to fit a page count simply
do not exist in the digital world. Of course, some have already thought through these issues and have
embraced the merits of online publishing far beyond the world of literary reviews. In the July 2006 edition of the
Chronicle of Higher Education, we saw the headline "Rice U. Will Start the First All-Digital University Press" to
cope with the "harsh economics of scholarly publishing" (A23). The article goes on to say that "peer review and
editing at the new press will be done the old-fashioned way: The press will hire a full-time editor and will have
an editorial board, for instance. But once the books are accepted and edited, the digital files will be placed on
a Web site rather than sent to a printer" (A23). As we read on, we learn the "press expects to focus on art
history, a field that many university presses have abandoned because of the high cost of printing color
illustrations" (A23). The article then mentions several other benefits to online publishing such as the ability to
incorporate multimedia features, links, online discussion boards, chat rooms, and other such tools. In addition,
a digital press "would cut down on the time it takes to get books to an audience" reducing "the time between
final revisions and release to 'a couple of days, as opposed to six months or a year'"(A23). But here's the rub:
the article then moves to the very problem I have been discussing. "The biggest challenge," we read, "could be
acceptance by authors and readers, as many scholars may hesitate to submit their books to the press out of
concern that tenure committees would take e-books less seriously than printed ones" (A23). Charles J. Henry,
Rice University vice provost and librarian, stated he "expected skepticism, and that the press would have to
overcome suspicions that it is 'just a catch basin to publish everything that no one else will put out'" (A23).
The "traditional peer-review process," he hopes, will "reassure doubters" (A23).
In the June/July 2006 edition of the American Journalism Review, Barb Palser examines the online vs. print
argument in the world of journalism. In "A False Rivalry," she states, "[T]here's no reason to believe the future
of journalism depends on newsprint, or that online news is inherently cheap and shallow. That suggestion is a
sure sign of dinosaur thinking and an insult to the many people doing important journalism on the Web. It's also
an insult to online viewers, who are just as hungry for the latest news from Iran as they are for updates on Tom
and Katie's baby" (42). "As we all know," she continues, "news on the Internet can be important and influential;
print journalism can be fluffy and trite" (42). Palser then argues that the "language of rivalry allows print
journalists to think of the Internet as something alien and threatening. When it comes to reaching audience,
the Web is actually the best thing that could have happened to newspaper journalism" (42). She believes,
"Important reporting can have far wider distribution and greater impact than ever before. When Hurricane
Katrina struck, temporarily stopping the presses of New Orleans' Times-Picayune, the paper's Web site became
a national news source overnight. A significant amount of traffic to NOLA.com still comes from displaced storm
victims in other states. If print newsrooms take a hostile stance toward the Internet, they're throwing away their
best opportunity for growth" (42). Rather than judging value by medium, Palser suggests, we should judge value
by the content and support the kind of journalism we all "wish to preserve" - that which is "Pulitzer-worthy,"
informs the public, challenges power, and covers communities (42). Online journalists, she says, may be the
print journalists' "best allies in preserving those principles" (42).
In "What Should We Preserve? The Question for Heritage Libraries in a Digital World," Margaret E. Phillips
asserts "anyone can set themselves up as a publisher, meaning that issues of quality and authority of information
need to be addressed" in terms of what digital media our libraries should preserve (58). But is it not true that
anyone can set herself up to be a print publisher as well? Is not the distinguishing factor between the set up of
print publishing and online publishing cost? If the answer to those questions is yes - and I believe it is - then we
come dangerously close to the argument that those with money are somehow more intelligent, more highly
evolved, more eloquent, more talented than the rest of us. This kind of thinking is exactly what the Academy
Award winning screenplay Good Will Hunting challenged. In a bar scene early in the film, an aristocratic
college student taunts Will Hunting's working class friend. Will (Matt Damon) confronts the student:
Of course that's your contention. You're a first year grad student. You just finished some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison prob'ly, and so naturally that's what you believe until next month when you get to James Lemon and get convinced that Virginia and Pennsylvania were strongly entrepreneurial and capitalist back in 1740. That'll last until sometime in your second year, then you'll be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood about the pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.
The bully is "taken aback," "Well, as a matter of fact, I won't, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact
of--." But Will interrupts:
"Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth..." You got that from "Work in Essex County," Page 421, right? Do you have any thoughts of your own on the subject or were you just gonna plagiarize the whole book for me?…Look, don't try to pass yourself off as some kind of an intellect at the expense of my friend just to impress these girls….The sad thing is, in about 50 years you might start doin' some thinkin' on your own and by then you'll realize there are only two certainties in life…. One, don't do that. Two -- you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda' picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
This film argues that even a janitor at MIT - Will's job when he makes this speech - can be as gifted, as intelligent
as the most published, chaired, endowed professor. Indeed, one of the factors for Will's resistance to entering the
mathematical-genius world of MIT is the classism entrenched in academia. In "Holden Caulfield, Alex Portnoy, and
Good Will Hunting: Coming of Age in American Films and Novels," Lawrence E. Ziewacz reminds us that Will "rebels
in various ways and attempts to accommodate himself to the world without losing his own sense of 'well-being,' and
in a sense his innocence" (214). I worry that the elitist views I have recounted in this essay will likewise damage the
innocence of my creative writing students.
In closing, I, of course, call the community of online literary reviews to maintain the identical standards as their
more traditional counterparts, thus ensuring high quality publications and engendering more trust in digital media.
I am not a supporter of self-publishing or publishing in works without a culling mechanism. Rigorous review
processes by qualified reviewers will gild the reputation of online journals. I do concede that there will be some
shoddy publications online, but there are shoddy print publications as well. We must judge each journal by its
content, not the medium by which it is printed. I must also call for the skeptical among us to embrace the world of
digital publishing. "Each innovation in technology," Robert Kalwinsky tells us in "Held Together by Thin Air: Pedagogy,
and New Media," "brings a new opportunity" (13). Digital media solves problems relating to cost, space, timeliness,
distribution, and audience building - in the world of creative writing, we might call this last a fan base. The time is
fast approaching when most, if not all, literary reviews and scholarly journals will be available online, perhaps even
exclusively so. And when that time comes, we do not want to be sitting on a bench, staring up at an apartment
window, telling our sons we are old fashioned.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota P, 1987.
Good Will Hunting. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Screenplay Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Miramax, 1997. (Dialogue taken from script available at http://www.imsdb.
Kalwinsky, Robert. "Held Together by Thin Air: Pedagogy, Technology and New
Media." The International Digital Media & Arts Association Journal 2.2 (2005):
Lewis, R.W.B. Introduction. 1968. The Age of Innocence. By Edith Wharton. New York:
Collier, 1987. vii-xvi.
Nicholls, Mark. "Male Melancholia and Martin Scorsese's Age of Innocence." Film
Quarterly 58.1 (2004): 25-35.
Nowlin, Michael. "Edith Wharton's Higher Provincialism: French Ways for Americans
and the Ends of The Age of Innocence." Journal of American Studies. 38.1 (2004):
Palser, Barb. "A False Rivalry." American Journalism Review 28.3 (2006): 42.
Phillips, Margaret E. "What Should We Preserve? The Question for Heritage Libraries in
a Digital World." Library Trends 45.1 (2005): 57-71.
"Rice U. Will Start the First All-Digital University Press." Chronicle of Higher
Education 28 July 2006: A23.
Schroeder, Robert and Gretta E. Siegel. "A Cooperative Publishing Model for
Sustainable Scholarship." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 37.2 (2006): 86-98.
Skaggs, Carmen Trammell. "Looking through the Opera Glasses: Performance and Artifice
in The Age of Innocence." Mosaic 37.1 (2004): 49-61.
Waters, Lindsay. "Scholarship and Silence." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36.1
Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. New York: Collier, 1987.
Witherow, Jean. "A Dialectic of Deception: Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence." Mosaic 36.3 (2003):
165-80. http://galenet.galegroup.com.lib.pepperdine.edu/servlet /LitRC?& srchtp=adv&c=1&ste=
Ziewacz, Lawrence E. "Holden Caulfield, Alex Portnoy, and Good Will Hunting:
Coming of Age in American Films and Novels." Journal of Popular Culture 35.1